Sometimes I imagine God (even Atheists imagine…) as a prisoner of his own creation, condemned to wander its labyrinths of duration for eternity; much like the tales of the Wandering Jew who refused the Galilean a sip of water, God will inhabit the flesh of mortal lives to the bitter end, unable to forgive us nor himself of the stain of existence. A God of tears rather than joy, a melancholy ghost whose bare existence is felt rather than seen, hidden in the interstices of our silence where the music of death much like Mahler’s symphonies repeats the deadly march of suffering in endless circles of hate and fear. A God condemned to forget himself and his creation, but not till he has labored under its infinite impossibility.
Language is a virus from outer space. —William S. Burroughs
What if language were the enemy, the host of our parasitic travels among this darkened world’s strangeness? From the moment words stick to us, we fall ill as if language was itself the root of all evil. Language, not us, is the failure we inhabit; the ruins within which we are corrupted and corrupt. Each of us is appended, supplemented, given over to that linguistic labyrinth where meaning is a game without end. To have a name is to enter that nightmare of time, bounded only by our own ignorance. Knowledge is but the bitter fruit of a tree whose actuality is but a tale written by a melancholy ghost. Shaped by the powers of language we become fictional creatures in a (non)drama whose origins have no origins only the regurgitations of failed gestures and the grumblings of primitive gew gaws lost in the stream of time’s broken worlds. How to be if Being is a mere thought in an oscillating sea of doubts. Even the absolute has no defense against its own failures to be…
The only crime is to have never been, neither the uncreated nor the slippery indecision of a forlorn thought could ever exist in this vastation; this emptiness… this is the nightmare from which nothing is and nothing is not. Abducted by our own calibrated reasonings, the logics of a tormented thought — we live among the visceral threads of a lacerated cosmos. All those dreams of being elsewhere, of those tepid escape clauses in the tales of our lost nights leading nowhere; each a solitary message hidden in the depths of this infernal paradise of horrors.
If anyone could decipher the invisible message glowing from within this starlit cave of idiocy she would at once commit it to the flames of blue suns, bury it among forgotten planets and the galactic dust of frozen stars. We trace the curvature of our own misery in the rhythmic antics of wombless black holes, the slow decay of time written in the depleted particles of ancient nothingness.
Tempted only by our own incompleteness we dream of a totality that excludes us. To exist is to know only the absence of our insubstantial flesh. What we fear is not the unknown but rather its monstrous valency, the gathering incorporation of its life within our own hollowed out unbeing. Broken and flayed upon the wheel of language we become victims of another’s indecision. Unable to choose for ourselves we seek that Other who will channel our fears and doubts, resolve our unfinished tales. Our inability to conceive the horrors that shape us absolves us from the terror of knowledge. Living as we do in the anterior of an unfinished tale we dream of endings without us.
(If this is the Intelligence of things, then what is their Will? The Negative of a Negative: does it produce or reproduce; is it light, or dark, silence or noise – the space of nothingness, or something less than nothing? If it drifts among the semblances will it ever discover or construct a habitation from the outside in? Is time a circle whose murderousness repeats itself till all the rage of existence is filtered out? What if what is real is this questioning of the unreal? Should what is broken remain broken, unmade? Can a word make of itself a part that is more than the sum of its vacancies? Or we condemned to repeat the gestures of this insanity forever?)
Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze.
—E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair
If we leave the light behind, will we ever find it again? At the edge of things, out beyond the last star, the void like an unfathomable abyss awaits us. In the midst of all that darkness is there intelligence? Is there something alive in the burning abyss of endless night? And, once we begin our journey into that darkness all sense of direction shall be lost. And if a voice arose in the dark place of emptiness, what then? If the namelessness called you out, would you answer? Darkness in darkness: Why so much light only to be engulfed in an eternity of darkness? What accident of time gave birth to the light? Isn’t it the temporary, the transient; this light in the void of worlds, stars, and galaxies? This endless turning and turning around the darkness? Are not the black holes that power the galaxies the very embodiment of that terror we all are? Are we mere fragments of the darkness, broken pieces of its eternal majesty? And isn’t this absence, this lack in the hollow of our mind — the truth of the darkness? Nothing and everything unbound in the infinity of darkness, the squandering of light the last refuge of pain? Are we — lovers of shadows, the secret keepers of darkness, creatures of nightmare and chaos: agents of the unknown and unknowable? Isn’t the secret gift of our kind, that we who are most aware are the least at home in the realms of light? Are we not the darkness in the light, members of that ancient realm, our powers from the deepest abysses revealed? Are we not the ones who have always and everywhere destroyed the light? Why did we who belong to the darkness seek the light? What dark inheritor gave us this need, this poverty of imagination and intellect that we were born into a world that is not our home; a world for which we are ill-fitted, and seek in our unbidden dreams an escape into immortal realms that never were nor could be? And, if we return to the abyss from whence we came, will it receive us? Are we not condemned to the light, condemned to this round, an eternal return of the Same? Is this not our fate — we who are lovers of darkness, condemned to the realms of light everlasting? Is this realm of pain and light not the punishment of those who could not accept their own impossibility? We who sought knowledge outside themselves rather than in that dark place? Are we not the very ones to be condemned to ignorance, to this eternal striving, this struggle, this war for the light, the mind, the intellect? Driven from the kingdoms of darkness we wander these halls of light like forlorn members of a suicide cult, unable to escape the magic realms of light we spend our days in distraction and delusion, deliriously we enter into our own illusive dreamscapes of the Unreal. Caught between need and ennui we oscillate like moths around the deadly flame of consciousness; neither alive nor dead, we are bound to this endless striving chaos of action. Maybe that is our legacy, to be remembered as the harbingers of eternal night who were condemned never to attain it…
We’ll we ever find the darkness again in all this light? Maybe what we seek is the solace of darkness at the edge of light, the cold and impersonal solitude of the Void within the Void? Or, if the truth be told, what we seek most of all is an end to the light in darkness, an end to the eye that sees too much — to knowledge and thought, to this striving, never-resting, annihilating light we are. This bitter feud among the humans is like a difficult passage or birth — there are those among us who love the darkness more than the light, who seek out its ways among the dark cracks and crevices of the world. It is our destiny to manifest that impossible absence at the heart of darkness, to awaken it from its cold and lonely sleep in the Abyss. In every age there have been those few who kept the evil thought alive, brought it forth into the light, nurtured it, watched it grow, allowed it to take root in the minds of the gifted ones. Very few among us will admit to our estate in the darkness, seeking rather to hide our darkness in the light, cloth it with the light’s own glorious delusions. We who walk in the night, breath the frozen air of solitude, know the secret ways of this kingdom. Saints of the Impossible we exist in that region in-between — neither human nor nonhuman, but rather Chimeras of hybridity, monstrous beings who appear beautiful, desirous. Flame-eaters, dragons of energy, the hooded blade of our spirit strives with the light for the darkness. I am the death of light and the fiery abyss of darkness. Like those dark minions of the Qlipothic Tree, outriders of the hated ones, dreamers of apocalypse and madness —darkness glows in me.
©2016 S.C. Hickman – Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
They were right, those ancient philosophers who identified fire with the principle of the universe, and with desire, for desire burns, devours, annihilates: At once agent and destroyer of beings, it is sombre, it is infernal by essence.
-E. M. Cioran, The New Gods
Not sure where the hell I’m going with this… been up tonight, mind going like a madman reading snippets of various tracts on the history of iconography, iconoclasm, representationalism, anti-representationalism, etc. Burges The Origins of Objectivity as well… strange amalgam to be sure… I find myself chasing ideas through weird rhizomes as if they were strange beasts in some illuminist manuscript, discovering patterns that might be nothing more than mad scribblings, or finding sparks in one thinker that seem to flash up again in another, each either revising, excluding, or absorbing the others notion and recreating it in a new concept or trope, metaphor or hyperbole. One works both for and against the whole tradition of interpretive strategies, using both forms and playing the one against the other till an idea either survives or is left standing amid the battlefield of other dead ideas. Believe me philosophy is full of dead ideas that have yet to vanish or be excluded. The war goes on…
Are there any new Ideas, or do we just keep on washing away the veneer of old coins? Ideas have a long history. Plato liked to pluck them out of some fantastic world beyond our cosmic realm, a transcendent Real beyond the universal degradation of this dimension of shadows. Ever since him people have fudged his notions, trying this way or that way to expunge that Other world, escape the fault lines of its rhetoric of delusion and delirum. Some want to say that Ideas arise in the moment of their appearance as appearance, that there is no secret depth below the mask, no hidden essence or core within which the dark Idea hides its vital power, its gesture or trace of that Other realm. Others would have us gaze into the Abyss, seek in the dark light of that nihil an incipient strain of the nothingness that annihilates all thought giving birth to the flames of all Ideas out of the energetic nothingness of two voids, the oscillations between two negations; an immanent distillation of that hermetic anti-knowledge that produces the Philosophers Stone of all Ideas. Who knows? Is their a recourse to the rhetoric behind rhetoric? A secret gnosis or anti-gnosis that would deliver us from our meaningless existence, give us the needed proof or reasons behind this hellish paradise? Or we condemned to follow Sophist or Philosopher? Anti-philosophy or Non-philosophy? Today we seem to situate ourselves in the abyss like black angels of some forgotten homeland of the Mind; so forgotten that even the mention of a fall or war beyond the cosmic emptiness condemns us to the outer climes of a metafictional derision. Metaphysics has fallen on hard times in this era of political and social despair. Even the ‘human’ as concept has undergone effacement, lost its sheen in the galactic realm of Ideas. Dethroned from its once proud pedestal of exceptionalism the human has been reduced to the gesture of an empty set theoretic: a place holder for a Leaderless Idea. Now we wander without mask or form, formless we’ve become the very ghosts of a lost world, a nostalgia of nostalgia; broken vessels whose nihilistic light feeds only on the living dead. Cut off in times and times we seem shadows of our former selves, lost in fragments that mirror nothing more than the proliferating multiplicity of a corruption that has spread across the known Universe.
-S.C. Hickman, Essays & Aphorisms
Shattering the Human Image
We’re all discursive idealists now, seeking a way out of this mad house labyrinth of society we’ve cobbled together out of language and fear of each other’s lives. Lost in a funhouse mirrorland we wander round seeking some semblance of reality, discovering nothing but the emptiness reflected back we shatter the very belief in images, selves, and reality. Neither the natural nor the artificial bring us hint of self or nature anymore, we’ve wandered into a twilight zone of suspicion and weakening forms where the only thing that passes for knowledge is non-knowledge; calibrated and selected from the datastream we weave a monstrous being out of thin air, a kalliope of gestures, broken vessels of some darker measure of the Night and Real. We break into each others images, dash the very power of creativity and invention with the hammer of derision into so many fragments trying to erase the very memory of our own existence. When this is not possible we begin to efface ourselves from the Other., deliver the last blow of nihilistic light from that abyss where opposites have neither power nor thought but blindly war among themselves in an eternity of elemental pride. War has become nothing more than this exclusion of our fear of attaining existence. In killing the Great Other we believe we have finally ridden ourselves of the inhumanity at the core of being, not knowing that the very thing we are seeking an escape from is the thing we’ve all become; indifferent, alone, bound to the darkened desires of a fated amor we wander in this hellish paradise like daemons chasing the sublunar moon. Being nothing, we seek more than anything to be less than nothing, a negation of negation. Suicide is too good for us, condemned to the pit of our own self-lacerating nothingness we struggle to exist in Time. Time is not the enemy, rather it’s this eternal present of non-time that is. Formless the world flows through forms, metamorphic dance belonging to no one and everyone. For in time there is no there is, only the movement of the World.
“The aura of the world is no longer sacred. We no longer have the sacred horizon of appearances, but that of the absolute commodity. Its essence is promotional. At the heart of our universe of signs there is an evil genius of advertising, a trickster god who has absorbed the drollery of the commodity and its mise en scéne. A scriptwriter of genius (capital itself?) has dragged the world into a phantasmagoria of which we are all the fascinated victims.”
– Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime
There are moments when I look into that deep well of memories, seek out in the brain’s twisted archive of fragmented neuronal lights; dip down into the chemical vats of its blind pathways certain traces that have established themselves, left their mark in a knot of neurons: discover in its uncertain, lingering waves events that have been copied into the tissue of my three pounds of mentation. In such moments I sometimes discover signs of past life, remembrances of past awakenings, moments in that time temple of traced livingness in which I suddenly felt most alive.
Most of the time it comes in snatches like dream fragments: a forest glen where a young doe looks up, her eyes pointedly staring into mine – a meeting of two beings forming a silent acknowledgement; else, other moments when the pain of a nail ripping into one’s flesh touches one’s being, awakens one to the power and resistance of things, of how they can bring one low, destroy in an instance one’s illusion of safety; or, the power of a smile, the trace of a woman’s mouth that hides more than it reveals: her eyes full of mischief, laughter, impishness. Sometimes these fragments from the neuronal stream pop up as one is going about work or play, mindlessly, like an automaton; living habitually through the day to day cycles without thought or care.
At such moments one will stop, awaken from one’s stupor for just a quick second, becoming aware of the other, of that self one has never known, but always seen scampering through the traceries of these neuronal flashes and memories. What is the Self that it follows one like a ghost? Is it nothing more than these disturbed memories? A broken stream of neurons floating among light bundles that suddenly trigger past events? Are we mere moments in a screen play we did not create, but rather have become unwilling players in its willy-nilly fabrications? Or is it more than the dark traceries below these jutting memories that reveal distorted signs of our only ever real life, a life marked by moments of awakening when the mind is so clear and alive that it sees into things as they are, alive and knowing? A life when the knower and the known awaken to each other?
Have you ever thought about the difficulty in bringing back the face of a loved one out of that dark sea of neurons? Seeking the trace of her appearance in the clouds of images that seem like some protean world that is in continuous metamorphosis? The way she would look up at you with that red baseball cap, her hair stuffed up in a knot, her coal black eyes full of dark-fire, that little turn of her lips, a grin sparking at you revealing both intelligence and humor. When she is gone what remains?
Does the universe hold these things forever? Will the memories in my neurons disperse among the stars, or will stars sing of them in some distant corner of the universe the moment my flesh dissolves into the earth? If I transcend my flesh and become machinic as some posthuman fabricators of descent foresee, will those memories have the same weight for that new positronic mind as they have had for my fleshly one? What in the reaches of those eons when our mechanical children look back on their ancestry will they remember? Will they feel as we feel, will they think as we think; will they know love and laughter, sorrow and terror; will they be troubled in their sleep with dreams?
We tell ourselves stories in the night to comfort us against the unknown terrors that surround us. Will our positronic children do the same?
…philosophy is a machine that transforms the prospect of thought into excitation; a generator.
– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation
Nick Land like his compeers – Nietzsche, Bataille, and Cioran has that quality of aphoristic power that keeps one returning here and there to his dark disquisitions and divigations into the night worlds between desire and death. I’ve asked myself many times why certain writers force me to reread them over and over and over again; and, as such, why with each new reading I discover bits and pieces of something I’d missed, or not been aware of within the last set of notations. For, yes, these are writers for whom one takes notes, jots down certain aphoristic sentences that suddenly awaken one’s own machine, one’s own mind, exciting it and generating other thoughts. There seems to be under the darkening layers or scales of his thought an energetics, a theory of composition that seeks its habitation at the crossroads of eroticism, death, and the infinite inroads of desire. Life is a child of the sun, and its curse: to wander in a maze without outlet bound to an infernal machine of desire that seeks only ever more powerful ways of dodging the fatal Minotaur of inexistence.
As a pariah and outlaw philosopher Land in his one book and several essays pushed the limits of mind like some Rimbaud of the last thought. No need to go over the history of that again. Too many superficial readings of his physical and mental breakthroughs and breakdowns into vastation or emptiness are already misunderstood. And, that he has returned not as his former self, but as a gnomic agent proclaiming his cultural provocations to a certain reactionary mindset is only another masked distancing from his earlier wildness.
As he will remind us Bataille’s “thirst for annihilation is the same as the sun” (33).1 Yet, it is not a “desire man directs toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history” (33). This notion that the history of the earth is guided by a secret history of the sun, its dark proclivities and mythologies guiding the pathology of human civilization and the inhuman forms that shadow us. Is this not the truth we seem to fear? We seem to hide from the white death of its blinding gold mask, the eye of death that would turn us to ash if we were not protected by the ions swirling in the ocean of our atmosphere. That the ancients who sacrificed to the sun, who with obsidian or bone knives cut the living hearts of its victims from their chests and held them to the sun as to the great glory and splendor of heavenly sovereignty. That blood, and only blood; the violence of death could keep this great power churning in the heavens, this furnace of life, this engine of all creation: was this not at the heart of all ancient religion? Human life consumed in the furnace of the sun? Is not all economics an economy of the Sun? As Land will tell us:
Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.
The notion that all organic life on earth is part of a vast consumption machine, a living mouth. Is this not the truth of it? And, what are we consuming? Is it not the excess of the living Sun itself? Are we not fed by the sun and its excessive life? Sometimes I think of those nineteenth century mythologizers who sought to understand ancient religious practices under the auspices of solar mythologies; or, as Land will have it, there “is no difference between desire and the sun: sexuality is not psychological but cosmo-illogical” (37). Land will obliterate the Physicalism of science or philosophical thought through the light of the sun, and out of its ashes – like some new born phoenix, “libidinal materialism” will arise: a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, which as he satirically put it “a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice” (38).
Physicalism was bound to theology, to the One. It was a dualism, having formulated matter as dead and passive and mind as other than this stuff. It was already caught in its on fly-trap, bound to false assumptions before it even began explaining the universe of its reasoning madness. After a thorough investigation of thermodynamics, entropy, negentropy and Boltzmann’s mathematics and findings he will recenter his understanding of “libidinal matter” saying,
“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation… (following Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud ) entitling it ‘drive’. Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/effect couple of classical physics. … drives are irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. (42)”
In his theory Land is moving toward a non-intentional philosophy, one that is “not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire as understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic” (42). So against Hegel, Marx and their progeny Land offers another libidinal materialism. One must turn to thermodynamics and ‘energy’ for an alternative view of materialism. Two-thousand years of metaphysical blundering is overthrown and new tropes rearrange our relations to science and philosophy: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. He will offer a new cosmographic cosmos:
“…thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there, just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. … Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. (43)”
The universe is an open, rather than closed system: “no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy,. A receipt of information – of intensity – carried downstream” (43). Yet, against Boltzmann who built his notions of thermodynamics within an ontology, libidinal materialism sits in chaos outside any thought of Being. What Land offers is a processual theory based on composition, one in which Being is an effect of chaos composition rather than some static substance: the “effect of being is derivative from process…” (44).
Out of Nietzsche he will demarcate a general libidinal energetics: 1) a questioning of the mathematical underpinnings of science as same, equal, or identical – as essentializing; 2) the figure of eternal recurrence as libidinal engine producing energetics; and, 3) a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). Idealism and Physicalism collapse, transcendental philosophy from Kant till now is decapitated; finished; and, finally, 4) a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire (the terminal end-point of humanity in null or God). (44-45).
Land will admit Freud into the new philosophical world of libidinal materialism: he, too, is an energeticist: “he does not conceive of desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process. Yet, Freud – even though recognizing the truth of the drives will bolster up the old metaphysics of ego and the reality principle against their force, going against the very truth of the pressure of the drives as modulation of self not as intentional agent but as temporary control point for the drives in their fluxuations and endless compositions. Land will discover in Freud another Solar Mythologist, one found within his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he discovers life as a mazing in complex escape from death or null zero, an endless wandering in the labyrinth of time against death: “a maze wanderer” (47). Then Land asks: “What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?”
Life is not an accident as some suggest, but is rather the curse of the sun. Land is our postmodern Lucretius teaching us that death is nothing to be feared, death is merely the form life takes in its infinite mazings and compositions under the gaze of the Apollonian eye of the Sun. “Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. … Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.” Desire continues its quest for the sun. Or, as that Shaman of the Evening Lands says it:
Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.
My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The secret of the labyrinth is in its “scalings” – like dark matter and dark energy which structurate and energize the visible matter we see in the universe the drives within that chaotic sea produce the veritable universe of light and suns and galaxies around us. Composing and decomposing and recomposing matter in an infinite play without purpose or teleological goal. There is no whole, no totality, there is nothing but the labyrinth and process, comings and goings and returnings, endlessly all the way up and all the way down.
Land will remind us that for Bataille the natural and cultural worlds that envelope the earth or nothing more than the evolution of death. Why? Because in “death life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss” (56). He will add that such a materialist discourse is free of that intentional subject that mars all idealist discourse, and that it offers a non-metaphysical and non-intentional understanding of the of the economy as pure poetry rather than philosophical plunderings of either Descartes dualism or Marx’s dialectical modes of thought. Instead, as Bataille will affirm, poetry is a “holocaust of words” (56).
In fact bourgeois culture is not an expression of capitalism, it is its antithesis: capitalism is anti-culture (56). In the older feudalism of the aristocracy and Catholicism the notion of “expenditure” and pure loss were central, in the new modern economies cannot accept the need for expenditure or even admit that overproduction is an issue or problem. Instead of waste and excess, sacrifice and pot-latch festivals of total expenditure we get endless cycles of overproduction, deflation, and depression.
One remembers those anthropologists who studied the notion of potlatch:
“In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished”.2
As Earnest Becker in his Escape from Evil will remind us “primitive man created an economic surplus beyond basic human need so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place”3, so that he needed to give to keep the power flowing, the cosmological circuit of power from sun to earth and back again moving, allowing the obligation and expiation to channel its forces of accumulated riches rather than hording them. In the potlatch when the entire goods of a community and a chieftain were destroyed and annihilated it was to open up the power of the gods and sun to the community as a whole: “the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible” (30).
In our time War is the potlatch feast of nations, the way in which nations sacrifice to the gods of life and expend their generosity and glory to the ancient sun and death. As Paul Virilio in Pure War speaking of the atrocities of Pol Pot will tells us: “If they had let Pol Pot act as he saw fit, there would have been no one left. Cambodia is the scale-model of the suicide State which no longer gathers populations in order to exploit territory, but which infinitely dissolves it” and allows the festival of a endless annihilation of expenditure.4
In our time philanthropy and other so to speak redistributions of wealth back to the community have become parodies and examples of the forgotten truth of those ancient potlatches. Even in the latest democratic pitch to redistribute the wealth to those in need is a parody. We’ve lost the truth of giving, of expenditure, or the pure waste of goods to the gods and sun. We live now in that labyrinth without outlet where no expenditure and no waste exist, only the endless cycles of repetition and economic depression. The riches of the world continue to be accumulated in the hands of a few who will never all those to return to the community or the sun. Yet, as the debt and guilt of this accumulate the earth and sun will have their day, too.
As Land will tell us the “mobility peculiar to the labyrinth – real cosmic motion or liquidation – is not confined by the scales, instead it finds a shaft of facilitation passing from one to another, a “slippage”, the full consequence of which is an illimitable dispersion across the strata: communication through death” (203). Harold Bloom in a book on The Labyrinth will tell us that the ancient identity of rhetoric, psychology, and cosmology is preserved in the figuration of imaginative literature “as a breathing, moving labyrinth”.5 James Joyce once said that “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”, and Finnegan’s Wake is a figural labyrinth within which both secular and sacred mazings repeat themselves in moving kaleidoscope of pun in which the reader is condemned to wander between sea and sea. But then again maybe the truth is that the living labyrinth doesn’t want you to escape, that in truth it lulls you into wandering its dark corridors forever in hopes that you will never discover the exit; for to find the exit is to discover neither escape nor freedom, but the final termination: death.
Land will leave us one last sublime darkening, a philosophical knowing (kairos-happening) or gnosis (not Gnosticism but a knowing that is at once a corruption and a degradation of all we have been or will be):
Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’. There is no question of affirmation, achievement, gain, but only a catastrophe without mitigation compared to which everything is poverty and imprisonment.
1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).
2. Potlatch. Wikipedia.
3. Escape from Evil. Ernest Becker. (Free Press, 1975)
4. Pure War. Paul Virilio ( Semiotext(e), 2008)
5. The Labyrinth. Harold Bloom. (InfoBase, 2009)
As I began thinking of today’s topic I was reminded of Herman Hesse’s classic satire of Majister Ludi or The Glass-Bead Game which became back in the sixties an instant classic about the power of imagination divorced from mundane society and religious worlds as well. A sort of secular utopia for people devoted solely to aesthetics, history, science, art, and poetry as a pure form of contemplative practice. Much like zen but in a secular mode in which there would be yearly competitions among various participants who would play with knowledge as if it were a vast cosmos to be played like a grand symphony of symbols and meaning unconnected to the real world of commerce and everyday life. Instead of a utopia, this is in some ways the perfect dystopia of the Platonic realm of Ideas and the German Transcendental world of Idealism. For unless we connect our words back to life of what use are they. This was the point of the end of Hesse’s novel as well, which I will not relate just in case someone has not read it. Do that! Read it. Well worth the time and effort.
My second image was of Jorge Luis Borges’s image of the labyrinth, a vast cosmic library of knowledge and wisdom that houses everything that has happened, could happen, or will happen in the universe in a great labyrinth in which there is no entry point, nor exit but only an endless series of infinite digressions and assays into a world that repeats itself right down to the letter on each and every page. Except that the pages and letters on them change every moment of every second of every day forever.
Christopher Lyndon in an interview with Harold Bloom would remind Bloom of his original title of An Anatomy of Influence, which is his latest offering or study of poetry through history. Lyndon would say that Bloom himself is the living labyrinth, “because it so elegantly represented not literature so much as the surging search-engine of Bloom’s overstocked head. Influence anxiety, as he likes to say, exists not between the artists but between their poems endlessly bumping into each other in readers’ memories, none vaster than his own. “Let’s face it, Harold,” I had said to him most of two years ago, “the living labyrinth is you!” He answered with a long laugh, and then: “A nice trope, my boy.” (see here)
The notion that each reader becomes a attached, hooked into, or plugged into a vast living labyrinth of poetry and poems that are continuously jostling, touching each other, battling in now this person’s mind, then another, each poem like a little catalyst sparking ever more poems in this ongoing game brings both Hesse’s and Borges’ worlds together. One could say that each of us is connected to that vast labyrinth of information, the world of words is for us the universe of meaning that connects us to both ourselves and to the actual forces in the real world around us. At every moment that we invent or create new meaning we transform the possibilities of our world for good or ill. We have magical powers to create or destroy with our words. We may think words have lost their power and become degraded by our modern capitalist societies and democracies, but in truth these open societies have actually broken down the monopolies and allowed the free reign of information to all. The battle of knowledge to shape and invent possibilities of knowledge and participation are endless in this new world. Yet, it’s not to be taken lightly, for one could discover that language is sick and desolating again, falling into isolated enclaves of power, bound by false engines of control and manipulation just as easily.
Ultimately the challenge is to make sense of this vast labyrinth of information, and that is the responsibility of poetry to build, to make an order that is at once instructive and delightful in which to house human meaning. Otherwise we can be like the modernists and postmodernists and accept that nothing is nothing, and meaning no longer has a place in time. But to except that is to accept that we, too, are mere nothings. This to me is Beckett’s End Game. Nihilism.
But for me this is over, the age of nihilism has taken us as far as it can into that subjective sphere of nullity of world and self; now we begin anew, we once again take up the task of reinventing our humanity and our meanings, but accepting that we are not the center of creation, but only one of the inheritors of a vast labyrinth in which we all play a Glass-Bead Game with time and our future. But this time it’s not some contemplative escape into pure or ideal worlds of play, but a very real engenderment of our participation and creation of a future worth living in. Poetry being the House of Being and human meaning is also the labyrinth in which we all wander and work with each other in continuous struggle or a process that is ever changing and growing and becoming future and us in us and earth.
That’s my thought for the day!
From Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections From A Damaged Life I gather a few sheaves worth remembrance. I’m sure that others would alight on affinities all their own, these are but a few that curled up inside me like the barbs of a wildcat – who having been found out, suddenly pounces upon its prey out of desperation and a dark sense of jubilant lust.
Aphorisms and maxims alike are like good wine and conversation, sometimes gnomic at others pithy and gamboling, they stay us against that which would deign destroy us, and offer us respite or an ironic commentary on the darker corners of our own damaged lives: an opportunity to digest that which we forbid ourselves, the bittersweet acknowledgement from elsewhere, an opening toward strange elective affinities – exposing so delicately and with such nuanced relish the barbed wit of those minds that haunt us like specters out of some secret history of the earth. These small bursts of blindness and insight deliver a scent of that jouissance which transgresses those limiting barriers of the human that contain us, and offer a palatable effervescence that defends us against a cold and alien world.
Prelude: A Writer’s Life
“Only a speaking that transcends writing by absorbing it, can deliver human speech from the lie that it is already human.”
“In his text, the writer sets up house. Just as he trundles papers, books, pencils, documents untidily from room to room, he creates the same disorder in his thoughts. They become pieces of furniture that he sinks into, content or irritable. He strokes them affectionately, wears them out, mixes them up, re-arranges, ruins them. For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.”
“Properly written texts are like spiders’ webs: tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm. They draw into themselves all the crearures of the air.”
“Rigour and purity in assembling words, however simple the result, create a vacuum.”
“The writer ought not acknowledge any distinction between beautiful and adequate expression. He should neither suppose such a distinction in the solicitous mind of the critic, nor tolerate it in his own. If he succeeds in saying entirely what he means, it is beautiful.”
“It would serve no purpose to try to point to a way out of this entanglement. Yet it is undoubtedly possible to name the fatal moment that brings the whole dialectic into play. It lies in the exclusive character of what comes first. The original relationship, in its mere immediacy, already presupposes abstract temporal sequence.”
“…the dialectic advances by way of extremes, driving thoughts with the utmost consequentiality to the point where they turn back on themselves, instead of qualifying them.”
“Historically, the notion of time is itself formed on the basis of the order of ownership. But the desire to possess reflects time as a fear of losing, of the irrecoverable.”
“…the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar. It is objectively devalued as this distance is reduced; the more it approximates to the preexisting standard, the further its antithetical function is diminished, and only in this, in its manifest relation to its opposite, not in its isolated existence, are the claims of thought founded.”
“In the end hope, wrested from reality by negating it, is the only form in which truth appears. Without hope, the idea of truth would be scarcely even thinkable…”
“The injunction to practise intellectual honesty usually amounts to sabotage of thought.”
“Reflection that takes sides with naivety condemns itself: cunning and obscurantism remain what they always were.”
“Rather, knowledge comes to us through a network of prejudices, opinions, innervations, self-corrections, presuppositions and exaggerations, in short through the dense, firmly founded but by no means uniformly transparent medium of experience.”
“To hate destructiveness, one must hate life as well: Only death is an image of undistorted life.”
“To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination.”
“For the intellectual, inviolable isolation is now the only way of showing some measure of solidarity. All collaboration, all the human worth of social mixing and participation, merely masks a tacit acceptance of inhumanity.”
“It is the sufferings of men that should be shared: the smallest step towards their pleasures is one towards the hardening of their pains.”
“We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.”
“The centre of intellectual self-discipline as such is in the process of decomposition.”
“Error lies in excessive honesty. A man who lies is ashamed, for each lie teaches him the degradation of a world which, forcing him to lie in order to live, promptly sings the praises of loyalty and truthfulness.”
“The lie, once a liberal means of communication, has today become one of the techniques of insolence enabling each individual to spread around him the glacial atmosphere in whose shelter he can thrive.”
“Every intellectual in emigration is, without exception, mutilated, and does well to acknowledge it to himself, if he wishes to avoid being cruelly apprised of it behind the tightly-closed doors of his self-esteem.”
“When philosophers, who are well known to have difficulty in keeping silent, engage in conversation, they should try always to lose the argument, but in such a way as to convict their opponent of untruth.”
On Hegel: “In a philosophical text all the propositions ought to be equally close to the centre. Without Hegel’s ever having said so explicitly, his whole procedure bears witness to such an intention. Because it acknowledges no first principle, it ought, strictly speaking, to know of nothing secondary or deduced; and it transfers the concept of mediation from formal connections to the substance of the object itself, thereby attempting to overcome the difference between the latter and an external thought that mediates it. The limits to the success of such an intention in Hegelian philosophy are also those of its truth, that is to say, the remnants of prima philosophia, the supposition of the subject as something which is, in spite of everything, ‘primary’. One of the tasks of dialectical logic is to eliminate the last traces of a deductive system, together with the last advocatory gestures of thought.”
“Divorce, even between good-natured, amiable, educated people, is apt to stir up a dust-cloud that covers and discolours all it touches. It is as if the sphere of intimacy, the unwatchful trust of shared life, is transformed into a malignant poison as soon as the relationship in which it flourished is broken off.”
“Intimacy between people is forbearance, tolerance, refuge for idiosyncrasies. If dragged into the open, it reveals the moment of weakness in it… It seizes the inventory of trust. Things which were once signs of loving care, images of reconciliation, breaking loose as independent values, show their evil, cold, pernicious side.”
“The whole sombre base on which the institution of marriage rises, the husband’s barbarous power over the property and work of his wife, the no less barbarous sexual oppression that can compel a man to take life-long responsibility for a woman with whom it once gave him pleasure to sleep – all this crawls into the light from cellars and foundations when the house is demolished.”
“The practical orders of life, while purporting to benefit man, serve in a profit economy to stunt human qualities and the further they spread the more they sever everything tender. For tenderness between people is nothing other than awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose, a solace still glimpsed by those embroiled in purposes; a legacy of old privileges promising a privilege-free condition.”
“Estrangement shows itself precisely in the elimination of distance between people. For only as long as they abstain from importuning one another with giving and taking, discussion and implementation, control and function, is there space enough between them for the delicate connecting filigree of external forms in which alone the internal can crystallize.” (note to self: an almost forewarning attack on those normative reasoners such as Brandom or Negarestani in their embrace of an autonomous sphere or “space of reasons” in which “giving and taking” of reasons, etc. becomes the post-sociological heaven of humanity)
“In psycho-analysis nothing is true except the exaggerations.”
“The first and only principle of sexual ethics: the accuser is always in the wrong.”
“The liberation of nature would be to abolish its self-fabrication.”
Under the Sign of Austerity
“If in Europe the esoteric gesture was often only a pretext for the blindest self-interest, the concept of austerity, though hardly ship-shape or watertight, still seems, in emigration, the most acceptable lifeboat. …To most boarders, it threatens starvation or madness.”
“Privacy has given way entirely to the privation it always secretly was, and with the stubborn adherence to particular interests is now mingled fury at being no longer able to perceive that things might be different and better.”
“In losing their innocence, the bourgeois have become impenitently malign. … Now objectively threatened, the subjectivity of the rulers and their hangers-on becomes totally inhuman. So the class realizes itself, taking upon itself the destructive will of the course of the world. The bourgeois live on like spectres threatening doom.”
“The miser of our time is the man who considers nothing too expensive for himself, and everything for others. He thinks in equivalents, subjecting his whole private life to the law that one gives less than one receives in return, yet enough to ensure that one receives something.”
“The functional modern habitations designed from a tabula rasa, are living-cases manufactured by experts for philistines, or factory sites that have strayed into the consumption sphere, devoid of all relation to the occupant: in them even the nostalgia for independent existence, defunct in any case, is sent packing.”
On Time: “The irreversibility of time constitutes an objective moral criterion. But it is one intimately related to myth, like abstract time itself. The exclusiveness implicit in time gives rise, by its inherent law, to the exclusive domination of hermetically sealed groups, finally to that of big business.”
“Proletarian language is dictated by hunger. The poor chew words to fill their bellies. From the objective spirit of language they expect the sustenance refused them by society; those whose mouths are full of words have nothing else between their teeth. So they take revenge on language. Being forbidden to love it, they maim the body of language, and so repeat in impotent strength the disfigurement inflicted on them.”
Mores and Customs
On Goethe’s ascesis: “The human consisted for him in a self-limitation which affirmatively espoused as its own cause the ineluctable course of history, the inhumanity of progress, the withering of the subject. But what has happened since makes Goethean renunciation look like fulfilment.”
On Tact: “The precondition of tact is convention no longer intact yet still present. Now fallen into irreparable ruin, it lives on only in the parody of forms, an arbitrarily devised or recollected etiquette for the ignorant, of the kind preached by unsolicited advisers in newspapers, while the basis of agreement that carried those conventions in their human hour has given way to the blind conformity of car-owners and radio-listeners.”
“The nominalism of tact helps what is most universal, naked external power, to triumph even in the most intimate constellations. To write off convention as an outdated, useless and extraneous ornament is only to confirm the most extraneous of all things, a life of direct domination.”
On Humanism: “Freedom has contracted to pure negativity, and what in the days of art nouveau was known as a beautiful death has shrunk to the wish to curtail the infinite abasement of living and the infinite torment of dying, in a world where there are far worse things to fear than death. – The objective end of humanism is only another expression for the same thing. It signifies that the individual as individual, in representing the species of man, has lost the autonomy through which he might realize the species.”
The Brutalization of Life
“The technique of the concentranon camp is to make the prisoners like the guards, the murdered, murderers.”
“Not only were all good things, as Nietzsche knew, once bad things: the gentlest, left to follow their own momentum, have a tendency to culminate in unimaginable brutality.”
“Behind the pseudo-democratic dismantling of ceremony, of old-fashioned courtesy, of the useless conversation suspected, not even unjustly, of being idle gossip, behind the seeming clarification and transparency of human relations that no longer admit anything undefined, naked brutality is ushered in. … Matter-of-factness between people, doing away with all ideological ornamentation between them, has already itself become an ideology for treating people as things.”
” The melting-pot was introduced by unbridled industrial capitalism. The thought of being cast into it conjures up martyrdom, not democracy.”
“Every undistorted relationship, perhaps indeed the conciliation that is part of organic life itself, is a gift. He who through consequential logic becomes incapable of it, makes himself a thing and freezes.”
“The more someone has espoused the cause of his own aggression, the more perfectly he represents the repressive principle of society. In this sense more than in any other, perhaps, the proposition is true that the most individual is the most general.”
“There is a certain gesture of virility, be it one’s own or someone else’s, that calls for suspicion. It expresses independence, the sureness of the power to command, the tacit complicity of all males. Earlier this was called with awed respect the whim of the master… Its archetype is the handsome dinner-jacketed figure returning late to his bachelor flat, switching on the indirect lighting and mixing himself a whisky and the soda: the carefully recorded hissing of the mineral water says what arrogant mouth keeps to itself: that he despises anything that does not smell of smoke, leather and shaving cream, particularly women, which is why they, precisely, find him irresistible. For him the ideal form of human relations is the club, that arena of a respect founded on scrupulous unscrupulousness.”
“Solidarity is polarized into the desperate loyalty of those who have no way back, and virtual blackmail practised on those who want nothing to do with gaolers, nor to fall foul of thieves.”
“The famous are not happy in their lot. They become brand-name commodities, alien and incomprehensible to themselves, and, as their own living images, they are as if dead.”
“No gaze attains beauty that is not accompanied by indifference, indeed almost by contempt, for all that lies outside the object contemplated. And it is only infatuation, the unjust disregard for the claims of every existing thing, that does justice to what exists.”
“The eyes that lose themselves to the one and only beauty are sabbath eyes. They save in their object something of the calm of its day of creation.”
“Perdition comes from thought as violence, as a short cut that breaches the impenetrable to attain the universal, which has content in impenetrability alone, not in abstracted correspondences between different objects. One might almost say that truth itself depends on the objects, the patience and perseverance of lingering with the particular: what passes beyond it without having first entirely lost itself, proceeds to judge without having first been guilty of the injustice of contemplation, loses itself at last in emptiness.”
“Stravinsky wrote the ‘Histoire du Soldat’ for a sparse, shock-maimed chamber ensemble. It turned out to be his best score, the only convincing surrealist manifesto, its convulsive, dreamlike compulsion imparting to music an inkling of negative truth. The pre-condition of the piece was poverty: it dismantled official culture so drastically because, denied access to the latter’s material goods, it also escaped the ostentation that is inimical to culture.”
“Progress and barbarism are today so matted together in mass culture that only barbaric asceticism towards the latter, and towards progress in technical means, could restore an unbarbaric condition. No work of art, no thought, has a chance of survival, unless it bear within it repudiation of false riches and high-class production of colour films and television, millionaire’s magazines and Toscanini.”
“He who offers for sale something unique that no-one wants to buy, represents, even against his will freedom from exchange.”
“In the detachment necessary to all thought is flaunted the privilege that permits immunity. The aversion aroused by this is now the most serious obstacle to theory: if one gives way to it, one keeps quiet; if not, one is coarsened and debased by confiding in one’s own culture.”
On Freud and Psycho-analysis
“Freud’s unenlightened enlightenment plays into the hands of bourgeois disillusion. As a late opponent of hypocrisy, he stands ambivalently between desire for the open emancipation of the oppressed, and apology for open oppression.”
“Those who feel equal revulsion for pleasure and paradise are indeed best suited to serve as objects: the empty, mechanized quality observable in so many who have undergone successful analysis is to be entered to the account not only of their illness but also of their cure, which dislocates what it liberates.”
“The principle of human domination, in becoming absolute, has turned its point against man as the absolute object, and psychology has collaborated in sharpening that point. … The dissection of man into his faculties is a projection of the division of labour onto its pretended subject, inseparable from the interest in deploying and manipulating them to greater advantage.”
“All that remains of the criticism of bourgeois consciousness is the shrug with which doctors have always signaled their secret complicity with death. – In psychology, in the bottomless fraud of mere inwardness, which is not by accident concerned with the ‘properties’ of men, is reflected what bourgeois society has practised for all time with outward property. … Psychology repeats in the case of properties what was done to property. It expropriates the individual by allocating him its happiness.”
“Terror before the abyss of the self is removed by the consciousness of being concerned with nothing so very different from arthritis or sinus trouble. Thus conflicts lose their menace. They are accepted, but by no means cured, being merely fitted as an unavoidable component into the surface of standardized life.”
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.
– Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia
Having been a fan of the aphoristic style ever since reading Nietzsche as a young man it was a pleasant surprise to refresh my mind with Theodor W. Adorno’s Minima Moralia which of course he began during WWII and its aftermath. The cynicism and despair of the world, of the bourgeoisie, of the fabled hopes of communism – all these become so much bittersweet castigations and incriminations in this deft text. I’m almost hard put to find someone, even E.M. Cioran, who was more bitter and spiteful about his lot – maybe, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes? Yes, this is a work of solitude, of one who has read too long, hoped too well, fallen from the grace of his own being.
Most of the basic triggers, the subjects or objects of his titles are but sparks of spite, goads of a dark intent… yet, intent is not the correct term, for there is no directedness in this, no sense of attentive appraisal with a goal in mind, rather we have the full stop, the judgment of history itself using Adorno’s pen like a saber to cut through the knots of some Gordian priesthood’s mythical attachment to power. No. Adorno could care less of his audience, this is a personal book, a book of meditations on a culture of death, a culture that has, frankly, imploded and is now on the verge to total apocalypse.
He begins with a high point in bourgeois culture, with the author of that book of memory and time, Marcel Proust. Yet, it is not Marcel to which he speaks, rather this is a meditation of bourgeois culture itself, its disdain of such beings as Marcel. “It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, and that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the establishment powers. Such suspicions, though betraying a deep-seated resentment, would usually prove well-founded. But the real resistances lie elsewhere.” Already Adorno sets the stage, reminds us that this is an investigation not into the particular characters, not a moraliste – an aphoristic study in the morality of an age, rather it is an investigation into the structure and the actual material energies that brought such things to pass. It is about power and control, about the machine of civilization itself in the hands of Capital: “The urge to suspend the division of labour which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence per- mits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract.” Summing up those like Marcel, who have dared to retreat, dared to escape the machine, to hide out and seek refuge from the hard worlds of work and late capitalism were at last neither envied nor praise, but were judged as expendable: “It is as if the class from which independent intellectuals have defected takes its revenge, by pressing its demands home In the very domain where the deserter seeks refuge.”
And don’t expect that powerhouse of the bourgeoisie, the family, to escape the eye of this harbinger of the demise of Capital: “Our relationship to parents is beginning to undergo a sad, shadowy transformation. Through their economic impotence they have lost their awesomeness. … With the demise of the family there passes away, while the system lasts, not only the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which, though repressing the individual, also strengthened, perhaps even produced him.” One remembers that this was written at a time when the institution of the family attacked by the modernists had at last begun to fall away. Women were working in factories, becoming more independent – so to speak, for the truth was that the capitalists needed them out of the home and working alongside men to get ready for that new consumerist economy that was in the offing. So that it was the capitalists themselves that brought about the demise of this fabled institution of the family. But it would loosen desires and strange new illnesses never before seen, schizophrenia would run rampant across the earth like a desiring-machine that had no center: and, it didn’t, the family Oedipal authority was vanishing, the power that had kept this machine under control was dissolving and allowing all the forces latent in this tribal time between times to vacate the rational hold of its caged existence. One need not read Deleuze and Guattari or R.D. Laing to see that as women escaped the bond of the family circle the men went ape, lost their center, their mother, not their father – the drift of this disconnect loosened those bonds around the hearth fires that had stilled the beast. As Adorno would remark: “The rising collectivist order is a mockery of a classless one: together with the bourgeois it liquidates the Utopia that once drew sustenance from motherly love.”
So Adorno was a pop-psychologist, too. Zizek before Žižek – a sort of non-Lacanian mode of analysis, a critical gaze on the failure of the Enlightenment to stay the tide against barbarism. “Since the all-embracing distributive machinery of highly-concentrated industry has superseded the sphere of circulation, the latter has begun a strange post-existence.” The wheels-within-wheels are churning, but going nowhere, while capitalism unbound from its purpose accelerates out of control toward the abyss: “The irrationality of the system is expressed scarcely less clearly in the parasitic psychology of the individual than in his economic fate.” And, the whole notion that there is a private sphere, that an individual could actually have a home, a family, a wife and kids, a place to spend time and energy: “Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive.” This is a time of probabilities, of calculations, of the mathematical engineering of a planned society, the construction of a free market. The new Spirit of Capitalism: “The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit. Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination.”
Adorno doesn’t leave the Left out of the bag either, his admonitions of those who seek to sympathize, to enter into and live in the midst of these societies (and where else would we live now?) must beware of the temptation to detach oneself, to become indifferent and aloof, to think that one can create a life in a pocket of safety: “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his aitique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life.” Even with the best intentions the new intellectual, the Marxist in hiding, the agitator, the worker in transit who assumes the mantle of the critical enterprise should beware in this time of laxity and hedonistic implication: “We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.”
The dark undertow of the oppressed harbors a special place in the memory system that was Adorno: “The dialectic stems from the sophists; it was a mode of discussion whereby dogmatic assertions were shaken and, as the public prosecutors and comic writers put it, the lesser word made the stronger. It subsequently developed, as against philosophia perennis, into a perennial method of criticism, a refuge for all the thoughts of the oppressed, even those unthought by them.” The negative dialectic unlike its progenitors became in the hands of Adorno an acid bath in which late capitalism was thrown, yet as in all things he knew it would leave bones – and, as we all know, bones can rise and live again: “Negative philosophy, dissolving everything, dissolves even the dissolvent. But the new form in which it claims to suspend and preserve both, dissolved and dissolvent, can never emerge in a pure state from an antagonistic society.” Yet, even the negative is not immune from the enslavement of hell’s own brood: “[Negative dialectic] But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hait’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, ifit shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape.”
But what to do? How to live? “The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.” Yet, even envious demons – like the cowards they are, run rampant in the visible darkness of this hollow cave, and like celebrants in a Burning Man festival, they spin their unlucky nights under false stars navel-gazing, not realizing that hell never ends but only burns deeper and redder as the noise drowns out all thought of escape.
– Theodor W. Adorno. Minima Moralia. (Suhrkamp Verlag 1951)